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Capitalizing On Fan Feedback

Imagine you’re an independent DIY artist that’s just starting out. You’ve recorded some music and started promoting it online. The initial response is overwhelmingly positive. You get emails from friends and strangers saying they can’t stop listening to your tunes. People leave you MySpace comments saying your music is the best they’ve heard in years. Someone on a message board has declared your release their favorite album of the year.

Encouraged by this feedback, you decide it’s time to target bloggers, journalists, online radio stations, and other “tastemakers” in hopes of expanding your fan base. But as an unsigned artist without much of a track record, you know it will be hard to get these folks’ attention. Bloggers and DJs are inundated with new music every day from bands proclaiming how great they are. Without any significant press, tours, or other achievements to point to, you worry that you won’t be able to differentiate yourself from the pack. Maybe they’ll eventually get around to listening to what you send them, but you’re afraid you may get forgotten or ignored if you can’t prove in writing that you are special. You know your music is great, and that ultimately it will speak for itself. But before that can happen, you first have to speak for your music in a convincing way.

So how do you do it? Is there a way to leverage the listener feedback you’ve received to get more press and promotion? Could you use glowing MySpace comments and forum posts in the same way that bands traditionally use press quotes? Would writers or DJs find your supporters’ comments credible enough? Are they going to care what a bunch of no-name listeners have to say about you?  

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. It seems to me that exceptionally positive fan feedback should carry some weight, if organized and presented correctly… right? What do you think?

Reader Comments (15)

I suppose if it can be quantified or qualified in a press friendly or headline grabbing way. I mean if its a story - or part of it, anyway. There was a time when thousands of myspace fans and tens of thousands of plays actually meant something until smart people realised it was all automated by people like me.

I remember seeing an article in a local music magazine proclaiming "local act gets 50,000 plays on myspace". Please. Anyone with $100 can get 50,000 plays.

I've also seen bands on myspace with "fake fans" - profiles of gorgeous (/porn star) women who just happen to be obsessed with embedding the bands player wherever they can to artificially boost plays.

Better not to educate fans about backlinks/keywords/anchor text? dunno.

March 24 | Unregistered CommenterMatt @ Kurb

That's a very good question -- I am almost exactly in those shoes (the part about being a start-up with loads of positive feedback from MySpacers).

I do wonder if you can boost your validity a bit by collecting genuine and thoughtful comments (not just 'you rock!') and putting together an attractive Flash presentation and posting it on your web site and MySpace.

I'll try it one of these days.

It doesn't help non-technical musicians, though.

March 24 | Unregistered CommenterAri Koinuma

I agree, Matt, talking about your friend count will get you nowhere. You'd have to focus on substantial comments, as Ari suggested. The question is how does someone reliably distinguish between a genuine comment and something planted by a friend of the band? MySpace may not be the ideal environment to pull comments from. A music message board with a smaller, dedicated group of users, or any online community that tends to police itself against blatant manipulation and self-promotion might be more credible sources.

I have these exact thoughts every day.

Until the answer surfaces, I'll just keep grinding away. :-)

March 25 | Unregistered CommenterDom Terrace

Interesting question, when even well known magazines like Maxim aren't even telling the truth (i.e. Black Crowes) - and there are more and more blogs like this one (and mine) creating more and more 'unsolicited' content (i.e. Not being scrutinised for validity by some greater power)

The problem is, anyone can post anything about anything. I could start a website tomorrow, set an agenda, and just go for it. I could make outrageous statements, even lie. But in this mass of media, who is going to check? And who has the power to tell me not to?

You end up in a place where no one believes anything any more. What about if those 50,000 fans on myspace were all REAL FANS? I see you shrug 'yeah right', but that proves my point. No one believes anything any more. We are all spammed and commented to within an inch of our lives every day.

It's very hard to use anything as 'evidence' these days. If you took all your best myspace, bebo, imeem and facebook comments and put them together to 'prove' how loyal your following and how great your music, I bet I could beat it by using the simplest trick in the book. Lying.

Who cares about the truth. The greatest music PR from the last two years has come from total lies - Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen, Sandi Thom - stories made up by clever people getting in on trends before they actually happened

I think you are better off creating a fantastic story and angle for an artist. No one wants to read another press release about x band doing y shows in z places with xyz fans on q social networks. Again.

The people you want to bombard with your message are already bombarded with really really bad PR. Come up with a great idea. Then tell people about it.

By the way, a great idea is one that hasn't been done before :)

The latest one is 'Everyone can self finance an album from fans' because that other female artist got the story first. That story is now GONE. Time to come up with another one.

Each of these stories becomes the stuff cab drivers tell me on the way to gigs 'Of course you see nowadays everybody's getting their fans to pay up front' or 'Yeah well you see in this day an age you can just do a Radiohead can't you, keep all the money yourself mate'

I want to be talking about you or your artist because you're going to come up with the next thing I wish I'd done first. Or at least, managed to lie about coming up with first, first.

We have all these great examples of creative PR but even the most established musicians and industry types get suckered into the hype thinking a 'solution' has been created, which they all then follow. Until the next one comes along in a few months.

Create a unique story. Do something different. Use something in a different way.

If you were selling kitchen taps you'd had to come up with really good ideas to grab people's interest. It is just the same with music - the music has to be good, but it is very rare that the music IS the story.

Think I'll go sign a punk band outside Buckingham Palace now.

March 25 | Unregistered CommenterJulian Moore

I'm a big fan of the DIY tools available for artists right now but it is very difficult for a talented artist to rise above all the noise online. Despite the competition for fans artists should definitely be on MySpace, Facebook, Last.FM, Pandora and the like. Every available "channel" for reaching fans helps but none provide a magic recipe for success.

It's really hard work but I would encourage the artist in this example to play as many live shows as possible. Live shows are the best way to connect with real music fans and it provides the artist the opportunity to actually make money from music and merchandise sales and door receipts. It takes time to build a fan following on the road but the long term dividends are worth it.

Playing a great live set in front of a packed house is the best way to get noticed by music fans, bloggers, press, booking agents, managers and record labels (if you they are interested in that route).

March 25 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Rose

I think we all have to be careful not to talk in absolutes. What's great for an emo band could be a waste of time for an acoustic act and vice versa. Each genre has it's own uses for all these things, but there is no one solution. For many acts it could be that doing gigs is proof that all the other stuff they were doing is working. It's a chicken and egg situation. If you're able to do a great live set in front of this fantastic packed imaginary audience then the best way of getting noticed was probably whatever you did to get the gig :)

Of course when you gig, you also need to be doing the right gigs. One perfectly timed gig/showcase/whatever in the right place is better than many other gigs. 'Gigging' as it pertains to most struggling acts is often something they do just to remind themselves that they can actually play in front of a crowd. Here in the UK, mid-ranged gigs are often loss leaders for the labels trying to push their breakthrough acts, and good support slots cost money as they try and claw back some cash.

Of course you've got to 'play'. But perhaps many bands think gigging for giggings sake is useful promotion, when for sheer man hours involved they could have done something more useful. Like try and get the one or two amazing gigs, or the ones that would lead somewhere.

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterJulian Moore

Although I am a myspace user and think activity there is important, I take an old school approach as well. The power of radio (REAL radio- you know, like the one in your Dad's car? ;) is HUGE. After spending much time creating a viable page (after we got over 3000 friends and had some real interest) I started looking for radio personnel on myspace. Turns out many of the bigger stations have pages and are really into it. I found a "Locals Only" page for a big Portland station I thought we'd be a good fit for and sent them an e-mail asking if I could submit some tunes for airplay on their Locals Only show. They did play one and I took that football and ran with it- actually ended up making some friends there I think will be in my life for a long, long time! =)

I went to the station and had lunch with that DJ who first played us, then she intro'd me to the Music Director. They let me hang out with the morning crew one day on-air, then they had me back to play my guitar for them right in the MD's office -with the marketing director this time. I hit it home, playing a new one I had just written called "About You". Then I asked for a job straight up, asking to open for a national if they would have us when a good fit came up. They said they really liked my stuff and the MD said I was as good as anything he'd heard comin' outta Nashville or anywhere else (yes!) so they'd be giving me a call. A few weeks later they did call- asked us to open for rising country star & American Idol finalist Josh Gracin at the sold-out Kells Irish Festival 3/16/08. It was a night if dreams, you know where everything comes together just so- we had a pro 3 camera video shot during the gig and got a great write-up in the Portland Tribune about it & our CD- plus we made it onto the 11:00 news! Talk about getting the most bang for your buck! The radio station also gave us a killer on-air review (I have it on MP3 =) and we are so thrilled and grateful to have them on our side. We are a "crossover" band that has had a hard time finding our place in this whole music biz but now things are really coming together due to some good old fashioned hard work. That station has played 5 of our songs now- FIVE! So just remember- if you really want to get it done, Use the comPUter for connections and then STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER and go make that relationship concrete! The comPUter can be a great tool but that's all it is- I think the real stuff comes when you make real relationships in our world. I got a gig opening for Eddie Money for us when we were a brand new band & it had nothing to do with the comPUter- we did not even have a myspace page yet! (went to a small wine shop where I knew they'd be hangin' out and overheard a promoter talking about the show- I sneaked back behind the desk and stole her card... bad grrrl! Then I called her and got an audition and we got it!). I know there are plenty of bands who have become big on-line but there's more than one way to sell a tune. And this way seems more of a sure shot to me- now we have this on our resume along with some great press - Juliann (other poster above)had it right when she said one should aim for gigs that really mean something after you've rolled around in the trenches for a few years. Thanks for creating this great forum Think Tank and GO GET 'EM everyone!

Reading the comments, one thing is common;one has to work hard!! Is an automated system hard work??

Your fan comments on your social network, may mean nothing to bloggers, journalists, and online radio stations, but the comment may mean something to their friends (which should be the target as new fans). Once you can access the friends friend comment, then you can start some mini pyramids, expanding your reach. who knows, the online blogger, journalist,or radio station may well be in the pyramid. I guess it may also be seen as a case of referrals. In that way the receiver knows that the comment is real.

March 26 | Unregistered CommenterKwen James

Come to think of it, one of the best ways to capitalise on fan feedback is to listen to it, and ask questions back. Ask them what they want from you.

March 27 | Unregistered CommenterJulian Moore

I am actually not a struggling musician (but actually a struggling office worker :-) ), thus you might not be interested in what I have to say. Still, I love music, and what's more, I love live gigs and new music. The music that I usually like most is that found lost on the internet, in myspaces, youtube and other similar channels.

All in all, that sort of music is far more challenging and fresher for the listener than whatever I hear on commercial radio here in Spain, whenever I go to London or whatever I see on MTV and pubs and clubs. Although I have to admit that I have amongst my favourites a few classics from another time that was much different.

I consider myself a true fan of music (taste in music is a very personal thing though) and it is truly sad that all you guys are struggling so much to be heard specially now that the world is a far smaller place than what it use to be.

I basically send you my support on your careers and would love to ask you all a question: How can good independent music and musicians overthrow the big corporations and the prefabricated groups that we have to listen to?

March 27 | Unregistered CommenterVilla Latina

It's frustrating that so many of the venues are not geared to folks under 18 or under 21. A lot of our venues are just for adults, and mothers end up not being able to make it to the shows because it is hard to find babysitters. So we try to look for as many all-ages venues, as possible. We don't always find them, because we also feel it's important to break into a new market or two each time the artist goes on the road. It's also important to tour in the summer,w hen you will find festivals or wineries (which are geared to whole families) that will work with up-and-coming bands, who have veteran sensibilities.

There are so many ways to capitalize on "fan feedback" and spread the word about your music. Unlimited amounts of venues to play or even venues to create. One of the venues for our April tour is a high school where Jann is playing for the 50th Anniversary of A.F.S. at that school. The relationship of this particular artist is he was an exchange student in the AFS program, so we can contact media including commercial radio and TV, and try to turn it into a news worthy event. As there will be kids at the show, that'll help also build fans. Kids are enthusiastic and open to hearing new music.

Not all artists can afford to have someone else do outreach for them, nor are they able to find gigs. So they're really the ones who have to do their own outreach. And I stress a lot of this outreach needs to be real world outreach to newspapers, radio, TV. Obviously you're not always going to get radio airplay, and it's hard to connect with a music director even during his office hours. I like calling stations to find out who does listen to music and if they will listen to your music. Don't send a CD to them until you hear from them. When you do, include a bio and a personalized cover letter, and do follow up every week untilyou get the connection. Stay in touch with them even after you left the market because you shall return. If they pass, give them a gentle "thanks," and let them know in time they will be including you in their playlist because you're working towards that. Then stay in touch when you're returning to the market IF you have a relevant success story for them.You might also have to reservice the CD to them.

March 29 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Leighton

As stated by others here...comments etc. only go so far. Nothing will get a buzz going about an artist better than touring. Put your music where your mouth is so to speak.

Yes it's great to have an online presence and hype is the name of the game but you gotta get out there and play. People get excited when they see an artist that blew them away live...not because they had a press release full of Myspace comments. Artists are relying too much these days on online music biz guru's who all claim they have the answer to the "indie" puzzle.

When it comes down to it the best way to show and tell people how great your music and your band to get out there and prove it night after night.
You are not going the click your way to mass has to be earned the old fashion way... by blowing poeple way live.

Open for who ever you possibly can... invite who ever (local radio and news papers) will listen to your shows and make them walk away thinking they just witnessed the next BIG THING!

Then hand them your Myspace comments...

March 31 | Unregistered CommenterChip Gall

I think that fan campaigns and PR campaigns are different animals. While a lot of fan love can help, it's hard to leverage this into PR. You can, however, organize your fans into an online street team that can help you get blog mentions, as well as message board coverage.

I had more thoughts on these topics based on the research so I've written a blog entry about it that's a little too long for the comment board here. I've mentioned a number of you who commented here, because you made some fantastic points.

The Difference Between PR and Fan Campaigns

I believe PR is public relations and that really is fan outreach, Randy. PUBLIC RELATIONS is a misnomer that most of us PUBLICISTS who practice publicity or MEDIA relations, haven't thought about. Guess, we're too busy hyping artists to the MEDIA to think about our own business!

But you're right, outreach to fans and to the media is different. We use different tools, as well. Sometimes we'll use some of the fan outreach tools like stickers, music and web sites to the media. But to fans you can also find new fans through both media placements and also contacting shops in the artists' demos when they're in town. If it's a metal band, why not contact a gym where music is played? Drop off fliers and the artist's CDs.

April 1 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Leighton

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